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It’s one of those slow days Lavi loves so much. It’s already late when pale morning light wakes him up. Minerva, his dog, stands in front of his bed and wags her tail as soon as he sits up and stretches.

“Good morning, Mini,” he greets her. She cocks her massive head, before she climbs on the bed and flops down on top of them. “You’re too heavy for that,” he laughs, knocked down on his back. She doesn’t care and licks his fingers, tail wagging and hitting his legs. Lavi buries his fingers in her tick fur and they stay some more minutes in bed, before he finally shoos her down and gets up. “Aren’t you hungry, honey?” he asks her and Minerva trudges towards the door, before she sits down and examines him with dark brown eyes. “You wanna go out? But you have to go alone. I have to get dressed and eat something before we can go on walk, okay?” Minerva barks at him, just like she understands, and Lavi opens the door for her. She darts out immediately and he watches how she jumps into the snow and makes her way to her favourite tree. “Come back when you’re done, okay?” He closes the door, locking out wind and coldness, and puts some wood into the fireplace and then he starts the coffee maker. He rummages through the cabinet and finds some instant porridge, before putting the kettle on. Then he walks towards the door and opens it a crack. “You wanna come back in?”

Minerva looks at him, before she starts to hunt her own tail and jump through the snow. He closes the door with a smile and gives himself a quick and very cold wash, examining the small window covered by frost flowers. He quickly slips into some pants and a fuzzy sweater, teeth chattering and muscles shaking. Even after all these years he has not gotten used to the cold every winter. The isolation of his bathroom window is a nightmare and every year Lavi intends to fix it in summer and every year he forgets about it.

He has barely entered the living room, when Minerva barks on the other side of the door, already waiting. He grabs a towel and tries to dry her off, but she darts through his arms and shakes her massive body, sending half melted snow flying everywhere.

“Oh, Mini,” he says and she gives him her best puppy eyes. He pets her massive head and she wags her tail. “And now we’re going to eat something and then we go out, okay?” He can wipe the floor later, or at least he could. The snow will melt and evaporate if you just wait long enough. Lavi lived once in a shared apartment and drove his flatmate mad with his laziness. A fond memory.

He feeds her, sits down at the small table and watches the snowfall while eating. Mini devours her meal like always in record time and lies down in front of the fireplace with a soft grunt. Lavi looks at her with a smile, before his eyes wander back towards the window. Small specks of white slowly sink down and little birds jump around, pecking at fat balls and chirping softly. He takes a nip of his coffee and leans back. Once a resident of the small town at the foot of the mountain Lavi calls his home asked him, if he’s not tired of seeing every day the same. Snow and ice, white, white, white. Small flocks of birds, sometimes deer, rarely wolves. In summer nothing but green and blue, forest and sky, little colourful dots, flowers and butterflies. Flora and fauna, rarely ever humans, sometimes campers, who ask for directions or pet Minerva. And the townspeople a few times per year, when he has to leave his green home, because his stocks are running low.

Lavi never gets tired of the forest, not in winter, not in summer. Not after almost four years, one completely alone and three with Minerva, who was a present of the old pharmacist, who always beams at him when he buys drops for his bad eye and brings her herbs he collects in the forest. Minerva was already a big fluff ball as a puppy, but now she’s huge. A St. Bernard with soft fur and even softer eyes. Resistant against cold and a warm companion in the nights when the firewood is scarce. Lavi empties his cup and examines Minerva, who raises her ears and looks at him.

“Wanna go on a walk?” he asks and she jumps to her feet, tail wagging wildly. Lavi gets up, slips into his shoes, his old winter coat, scarf, beanie and gloves. He opens the door and Minerva flies past him and back into the snow, flops down on her back and rolls around. It’s delightful to watch her brimming over with life. He closes the door behind them and pulls his scarf up to his nose. “Come, girl.” She gets on her feet and off they go.

The forest is swathed in snow, glinting in the sun, which peeks through thick clouds. Squirrels and little birds dart through branches, examining him and especially Minerva warily. It’s completely silent aside from the singing of the birds and the scrunching of the snow under shoes and paws. A breeze moves branches and snow rains down on them, turning the brown of Minerva’s fur white. She shakes and jumps into a snowbank, only her wagging tail visible for a few seconds. Lavi laughs and she peeks out of the snow and tilts her head.

They keep walking and it’s like always. Minerva plays in the snow, needs forever to find a spot to do her business, and Lavi enjoys the fresh air and the peacefulness.

But it doesn’t stay that way.

Minerva freezes and cocks her ears. He examines her with raised brows, but then he hears it, too. Steps, way too heavy and ungainly for an animal. Maybe a hiker. Suddenly Minerva is running and Lavi calls for her, but she doesn’t even think about slowing down. He sighs and follows her. “Mini, stop running away. You’re gonna freak out some poor hikers.” It’s easy to follow her trail and Lavi does, hoping she’s going to give up and come back, until she starts to bark. He stops and frowns, now hearing no more steps. “Mini?” he calls out and she keeps barking. Lavi quickens his steps and climbs through snowbanks, legs slowly getting wet. He reaches a clearing and there she is. She’s sniffing something and Lavi slowly steps closer, until he falters. Not something. Somebody.

Lavi starts to run and falls down on his knees next to them. They lie in the snow, half on their side, face hidden behind black hair. Lavi grabs a cold shoulder and turns them around, hoping dearly that they’re still alive. A young man, lips blue, cheeks pale, eyes closed. Lavi’s fingers dance over his face and finally he feels warm breath and sighs in deep relief, before he softly shakes him.

“Hey, do you hear me?” The man frowns slightly, but his eyes stay closed. He feels cold and Lavi hesitates for a moment, before he takes his hand and tries to get him on his feet, but his arm slips out of his hands and he falls back into the snow. Lavi contemplates for a moment, before he pushes him into a sitting position and takes off his jacket to put it on him. Then he wraps his arms around his chest and drags him a few steps. That’s enough to leave him breathless, but giving up is not an option. They’re hours away from the town and the man is going to freeze if he waits too long. And so Lavi drags him one step after the other, followed by Minerva, who keeps barking, and thinks haphazardly that he’s the first person Lavi sees in nearly a month. It’s solitary so far out in the woods, especially in winter.

He has no idea how long it takes him to get him into his cabin, but in the end he makes it and barely has enough energy to lay him down in front of the fireplace, before he collapses next to him. Minerva nervously sniffs his face and he raises a hand to pet her. “Everything is alright, Mini.” His hands, shoulders, legs and back hurt terrible, but the clothes of the man are soaking wet and his lips are still blue. Lavi gets up with a grunt and then he hesitates, before he carefully undresses him. He’s only wearing jeans, a pullover, a shirt underneath and a thin jacket. Lavi has no idea how he made it this far out dressed like this. His shirt and shorts are thankfully still mostly dry and so he moves him until he lies on his side, and gets all blankets he owns to lay them on top of him, before he puts more wood into the fireplace. Only then he changes his own clothes and dries off Minerva, who’s still sniffing at the man.

Afterwards he sits down cross-legged and examines him. He’s Lavi’s age, maybe three or four years younger, Asian and a little shorter than him. Soft features, dark lashes, long hair. It’s a pretty face, especially for a man. His lips are less blue now and when Lavi reaches out, the cheek under his hand is not as cold as before. Lavi gets up to put the kettle on, prepare tea and rummage through the cabinet until he finds a glass with soup he warms up. He’s planning to sit back down next to him, but he hears a sound, blankets moving over the wooden flooring, and he’s greeted by two dark eyes. Lavi pauses and returns his look. His guest is sitting upright, wet hair clinging to his shoulders and cheeks, and his dark eyes are unreadable.

“Hello,” Lavi says slowly and pours tea into a cup. “You should drink something warm,” he adds after a few seconds of heavy silence, but his guest doesn’t move and just stares at him, a deep frown on his face. Lavi holds the cup out and finally he takes it, cold fingers touching Lavi’s hand fleetingly. His dark eyes wander to his wet clothes, which lie spread out right next to him on the floor. Then he looks back at Lavi, who’s in awe of such an ugly expression on such a beautiful face. “Sorry, normally I undress people not until the third drink,” he tries to lighten the situation up, but the man doesn’t laugh. He just keeps staring, until Minerva gets up from her second favourite spot, right next to Lavi’s bed, and pushes her cold nose against the back of his arm. He jumps and nearly spills the hot tea, before turning around and staring at her with wide eyes. Just like the gentle soul she is, Minerva wags her tail and sniffs at his hair. The man examines her for another long moment, before he puts his cup down.

“Does your dog bite?” he asks, voice hoarse and throaty. He grimaces and lays a hand on his neck. “Fuck.”

“Drink your tea,” Lavi answers and sits down on the ground. “And no, she doesn’t. You can pet her, if you want to.”

The man takes a nip of his tea, before he carefully touches Minerva’s massive head. She wags her tail faster than before and flops down on the ground and rolls on her back. He examines her for a moment, until he reaches out and ruffles the thick fur on her chest and belly, only pausing to drink a sip of tea.

Lavi watches them and relaxes slowly. He didn’t notice how tense he was. It’s not a surprise. A stranger in his little hideaway. But Minerva obviously likes him and if that’s not a good sign Lavi doesn’t even know.

“Do you want to see a doctor?” he asks and his guest shakes his head immediately.

“I’m fine.” He neither sounds nor looks fine, but Lavi nods and gets up to search for some warm clothes in his dresser, while feeling his gaze in his back.

“You can change in there.” He hands him the clothes and points at the bathroom. He nods and slowly gets up, breath going a little quicker and Lavi steps closer, ready to support him. “You okay?” he asks. “Dizzy?”

“I’m fine,” he repeats with a deep frown and disappears into the bathroom. He’s not gone for long and when he comes out he uses the cord around his wrist to tie his long hair up, exposing the line of his neck.

He doesn’t say anything and just sits down on top of the blankets and so Lavi serves the hot soup. His guest takes the bowl without a word and they eat in silence. Minerva keeps wandering in between them, collecting pets and cold fingers in her thick fur.

“What’s your name?” Lavi asks after a while and two dark eyes examine him for a long moment.

“Kanda,” he answers, voice a little less hoarse.

“Nice to meet you, Kanda.” Lavi smiles at him. “I’m Lavi. Do you want to call somebody?”

Kanda puts his still half-full bowl down and scrutinizes the fire, a deep frown on his beautiful face. “No,” he answers finally. “How far away is the next town?”

“Hours away.” Lavi puts his bowl down, too, and starts to laugh when Minerva tries to climb on his lap. “You’re too big for that.”

Kanda doesn’t laugh, instead he picks up his nearly dry clothes. Lavi clears his throat and he looks at him. “What?”

“You nearly froze. In your position I wouldn’t try to go outside with such thin clothes,” he replies and the frown on Kanda’s face deepens. “You can borrow some clothes, if you want to. And I can show you the way to the town. Tomorrow,” he adds when Kanda wants to reply. “It’s easy to get lost after dark.”

Kanda stares at him and seconds pass, before he finally nods. “Okay,” he answers. “Thank you.” He sounds on edge, probably because of the prospect of spending the night with a hermit and his dog far out in the woods.

Lavi smiles stiffly at him and gets up. “And now eat your soup and drink some more tea, while I’ll work, okay? Do you want to have the couch?” he asks, but Kanda shakes his head. Lavi looks at him unsurely, but Kanda avoids his eyes and so he grabs his laptop and sits back down, while Kanda stays on the wooden floor, right next to the fireplace. His lips aren’t blue anymore and his hair dry, but he still looks cold.

Lavi starts to work, Minerva curled up next to him. He’s slower than usual, since he isn’t used the presence of another person, at least not anymore. From time to time he darts a look at Kanda, who seems to be deep in thought, still holding the empty bowl in his hands and looking into the fire. Lavi would like to ask what he’s doing all alone in the wilderness, wearing nothing more than chucks and a thin jacket, but he doesn’t. Instead he keeps writing and later editing. Kanda only gets up to use the bathroom and put the kettle on. The rest of the day he spends sitting cross-legged near the fire and after a while he closes his eyes. It takes Lavi a few minutes to notice that he’s meditating.

The day flies by and darkness crawls soon through the forest and enshrouds the small cabin. Lavi lets Minerva out a last time and afterwards they eat dinner, just instant noodles and some more tea. Lavi prepares the couch for Kanda, who says one blanket is enough for him, but Lavi still gives him three, because he already demonstrated how good he is at looking after himself. Lavi takes Minerva under his blanket, his little living heater.

Lavi isn’t used to share his cabin with another soul than Minerva and it takes him long to fall asleep. Kanda barely moves the whole night and Lavi doesn’t know if it’s because he’s asleep or because he’s back at thinking.

In the morning Lavi wakes up by the sound of the kettle and Minerva licking his cold fingers.

“Sorry,” Kanda says and his voice sounds even hoarser than the day before. He leans against the kitchen counter, wearing his own dry clothes and nipping his tea. Lavi gets up to let Minerva out, before he steps closer to examine Kanda. “When are we going to leave?” he asks. His cheeks are flushed and his eyes glassy.

“You’re sick,” Lavi says without answering his question.

“I’m fine,” Kanda replies with a frown and Lavi wants to lay a hand on his forehead, but he moves out of his reach. “The fuck are you doing?”

“You have a fever, don’t you?” Lavi asks and turns around to rummage through his little nightstand. He makes a find and holds up a medical thermometer. “Here,” he says, but Kanda doesn’t take it.

“I’m fine,” he repeats.

“You’re sick,” Lavi answers patiently and lays the thermometer on the counter. “I’m not taking you into the forest, when you’re sick.” Kanda just stares at him and Lavi speaks on. “The way is long and exhausting.” The idea of spending another few days with Kanda isn’t really alluring, but there’s no other option.

Kanda’s eyes drop to the thermometer and he softly frowns. “And now?” he asks.

“And now you’re staying until you feel better and then I bring you into the town, okay?” Lavi offers and Kanda stays silent until he finally nods.

“What do you want me to do? I have no money with me,” he asks suddenly and surprises Lavi, who raises his brows.

“Nothing. Just get healthy and maybe do the dishes or something, when you feel better. You don’t have to do anything and I don’t want your money.” He smiles at him and of course Kanda doesn’t return it. He just nods and then it’s silent again.

 

After four years nearly completely alone, besides Minerva and sometimes a lost hiker, it’s weird to share his home with somebody. But Kanda is surprisingly comfortable company. He spends the most of the days on the couch, sleeping or reading one of Lavi’s books, and is refreshingly unobtrusive. He barely says more than a few words per day and after three days of rest he accompanies Lavi and Minerva on their walks, wearing one of Lavi’s coats and his boots, even though they’re a size too big. His long hair is hidden under a beanie and his face behind a thick scarf.

Minerva seems to like him. She even knocks him accidently over once and Lavi is embarrassed, but Kanda doesn’t seem to mind and just pets her ears and gets up.

“How old is she?” he asks on a sunny afternoon and Lavi needs a moment until he notices that it’s the first time that Kanda wants to know something. Other than necessaries, like which clothes he can take or if it’s okay to eat the last instant noodles.

“Three,” Lavi replies. Kanda nods and watches Minerva diving into the snow. “She likes you.”

“Most dogs like me,” he replies. Other than people. Lavi looks at him and his eyes wander over his cheekbones, his long lashes and his eyes.

To Lavi’s own surprise, it’s a nice change to have somebody to talk to, after all this time alone. Kanda barely answers and most of the times he just stays silent, but at least Lavi knows for sure he understands him. Other than Minerva, who just tilts her head at him and keeps wagging her tail.

Kanda feels visibly better. His voice is still hoarse, but his eyes are less glassy and his cheeks aren’t as hot as before. It’s time to talk about the hike to the town, but Kanda doesn’t mention it and nor does Lavi.

 

It’s a new routine. Kanda always wakes up first, puts the kettle on and prepares breakfast, while Lavi gets up and opens the door for Minerva, who doesn’t grow tired of snow, even after three winters. They eat and afterwards they go for a walk. Then Lavi starts to write or edit and Kanda does his share of work. He’s surprisingly good at chopping wood for a city child. Sometimes he spends hours outside, just cutting wood or watching the snow. And Lavi watches him from the cozy and warm cabin. Specks of white stick in his hair and lashes, cheeks rosy by the cold and eyes so dark. He’s beautiful, a still water running deep. Lavi knows nothing about him, only his name and that he likes dogs, silence and nature. And Kanda for his part knows nothing about Lavi, because he doesn’t ask. Why he’s living all alone in forest, why he’s blind in one eye, what he’s doing for a living. They spend the evenings in front of the fireplace, Kanda warming up after a long day outside and Lavi reading.

 

One week passes, then another. The snow keeps falling and Lavi gets so much more work done, because Kanda takes care of the firewood, helps in the household and even goes with Minerva on walks. Sometimes they disappear for hours, but Lavi isn’t worried, since Minerva knows the forest inside out, much better than he does. But he does ask Kanda to not go into the forest alone, because it’s easy to get lost and Lavi doesn’t want him to vanish the same way he appeared: into thin air. Kanda scoffs, but still does what Lavi is asking for.

He doesn’t complain, not even once. The cabin has no running water, like always in winter to keep the pipes from bursting. They have to get the water out of the well behind the cabin or collect snow and cook it before using. Kanda also doesn’t complain about having to sleep on the old couch, which is a little too short for his long legs. Or that Lavi can only offer instant meals, aside from some frozen vegetables. He doesn’t complain and does his share of work.

He also doesn’t notice that Lavi’s fantasy runs wild, maybe the side effect of writing stories for a living. If Kanda notices he’s talented at hiding it. At night Lavi lies awake and his mind wanders a mile per second, always wondering what Kanda was doing all alone deep in the forest. Lavi always had a lot of fantasy, way too much for the most people in his life. Always daydreaming, head full of stories and colours.

Kanda’s obviously not eager to go into the town, since he didn’t mention it since the morning of day two. Maybe he’s running away from something. Or somebody. Maybe from his family, a girlfriend or the law.

Lavi often lies on his side and looks into his direction, even though it’s nearly pitch black in the cabin and he can’t see him. He still keeps looking and ideas jump through his head. After a while stories start to form. Of a young criminal fleeing into the woods by foot. Of a normal person just getting up one day and leaving his life behind. Of a young man jumping out of a car and running for his life.

Lavi still doesn’t ask.

 

But he keeps watching. The way Kanda sits every morning and every evening cross-legged in front of the fireplace and meditates. The way his long hair moves around his shoulders and frames his face after washing it. How he goes out of his way to make room for Minerva on the couch. The way he hauls firewood into the cabin. How winter sun gives his dark eyes a warm colour. And finally how he notices Lavi’s looks and gazes.

Kanda doesn’t say anything, but suddenly Lavi’s the one being watched. While sitting on the bed and writing. Playing with Minerva in the snow. Laying prone on a blanket in front of the fireplace and reading. Preparing breakfast. Getting water from the well.

He has something bold in his eyes and doesn’t look away, even when Lavi catches him staring. Instead he keeps looking at him, eyes very dark and face unreadable.

And suddenly a month has passed and Lavi’s world is hidden under even more snow, white and beautiful, glinting in the sun. Kanda still didn’t ask him to show him the way into the town and Lavi still doesn’t know why he appeared out of thin air. But he does know that there’s something on his mind, hidden behind stern eyes and activity. Sometimes Kanda’s gone all day together with Minerva or he keeps chopping woods until his arms have to feel like lead. He’s running from something and Lavi doesn’t know what it is, but he knows that he doesn’t want Kanda to leave.

 

Kanda might be the bolder one of them, but in the end Lavi is the one, who does the first move. He doesn’t often act without thinking beforehand, but this time he does. He sees Kanda’s tattoo for the first time, an Om symbol, right above his heart. Lavi has barely time for a peek and then Kanda is already buttoning up his shirt, until Lavi’s hand is suddenly on his skin. He has always been curious.

He moves the shirt aside to have a better look at it and only when Kanda does a step back it dawns on him that he overstepped a boundary. Only looks, no touches.

Lavi’s eyes jump to his face, which isn’t showing anything, aside from a frown. “I’m sorry,” he breathes and does a step back, too.

Kanda stays silent and just examines him. Something happens behind his eyes and Lavi has no idea what it is, until Kanda tilts his head and there it is. Boldness.

Lavi smiles at him, probably blushing, and Kanda doesn’t smile back, but he keeps looking at him, not even trying to hide it.

 

One morning Kanda does something he never did before: he wakes Lavi up. His hand is on Lavi’s shoulder and keeps shaking him, until he opens his eyes and looks up to him.

“Mh?” he murmurs groggily and sees the sharp line between Kanda’s brows. “What’s wrong?” He sits up and looks at him. It must be early in the morning, because there’s barely any sun light coming through the windows. “Did something happen?”

“Yes,” Kanda answers with a deep frown and walks towards one of the windows. “Winter did happen.”

Lavi raises his brows and then he understands. “Oh.” He gets up and starts to laugh. “We’re snowed in?” Snow is piling up against the window, not enough to lock daylight out completely, but obviously enough to freak Kanda out, who examines Lavi now with stern eyes.

“Why are you so damned relaxed about this?” he asks and Lavi keeps laughing.

“Because that happens every winter at least once, often even two or three times. It’s okay,” he answers and Kanda raises his brows.

“Really?” he asks and Lavi nods. “And now?”

“And now I go back to bed and snooze some more and you meditate a little,” Lavi answers and stretches. He flops back down and raises his blanket for Minerva, who licks his fingers and keeps wagging her tail.

“And what are we going to do about this?” Kanda points at the window.

“Just wait a few days and it will sort itself out. But we probably have to dig one window free for Mini or she’s going to go nuts, all day in the cabin.” Lavi hides his face in her fur and Kanda doesn’t answer. Instead he hears him rummaging in the kitchen, until he falls back asleep.

 

The power goes out around noon and Kanda looks a little more relaxed after Lavi explains that this often happens in winter. Lavi has to think about the first time being snowed in, dead in the winter and completely alone without power. He was more than a little freaked out and so relieved when the snow finally thawed enough after two days and he was able to climb out of the window.

They manage to free at least one of the windows and together they haul Minerva up. Kanda is a lot stronger than he looks like and Lavi bumps into him, because Minerva amicably places her foot on his cheek to climb through the loose snow. Lavi laughs, Kanda snorts and Minerva keeps wagging her tail. Snow flutters all over the floor and Lavi mops while Kanda stands on tiptoes and watches her running through the snow.

“Everything looks so different,” he says after a while and Lavi climbs on the window sill to have a look at his dog.

“Yeah. It’s even easier to get lost like this. We should wait it out,” he answers and then he whistles. “Mini!”

She dashes through the snow and nearly knocks him down the window sill, causing Lavi to laugh and Kanda to roll his eyes. She lands on the floor, scattering snow everywhere and Lavi closes the window. He mops some more, while Kanda dries her off and afterwards they heat some water over the fire and eat.

 

Lavi always enjoyed the lazy days being snowed in. Writing in the notebook hidden in his nightstand, reading in candle light and cuddling with Minerva in front of the fireplace.

Kanda seems to enjoy it a lot less than him. He keeps wandering restlessly through the old cabin, making Minerva nervously following him and silently whining.

“You okay?” Lavi asks after a while. It’s starting to get dark, even earlier than usual, because the snow keeps out most of the daylight. Kanda stops and sits down without answering. It doesn’t take long and he starts to wiggle his foot, head obviously full of thoughts and no way to run away as usual. Chopping wood until he’s too tired to think or walking for hours through the forest, caught up in the beauty of nature and playing with Minerva.

Cold is slowly seeping through the wooden walls and Lavi puts on another sweater and hands one to Kanda in the same go.

“I don’t feel cold,” he answers, but Lavi doesn’t care. Kanda stares at him and finally takes it. He pulls it over his head and when he emerges a few strands of hair stick out of his ponytail. Lavi smiles at him and they spend the evening in silence. Kanda pacing and Lavi writing.

 

The night is cold and they don’t have enough firewood to heat the cabin the whole night. It’s all outside, hidden under snow and soaked. Lavi tries to sleep, Minerva and a hot-water bottle under several blankets, until he gets up to light a candle and put on more layers.

Kanda lies curled up on the couch and watches him. He refused to take any of the blankets Lavi wanted to give to him.

“You’re cold, aren’t you?” Lavi asks and gets his winter coat to spread it out on top of him.

“I’m fine,” Kanda replies, but he doesn’t fend him off. He looks up to him and Lavi resists the temptation to tuck a strand of hair behind his ear and goes back to bed, after blowing out the candle.

Kanda can’t sleep, obviously. Lavi hears him moving around, rustling and turning. His hot-water bottle is cold by now and he embraces Minerva a little tighter, because she’s so warm. Kanda must be freezing.

“Kanda?” he asks into the darkness and the rustling stops for a moment. “You’re cold. Don’t be stubborn,” he adds, because the sharp way he inhales tells Lavi more than enough. “I have twice as many blankets and Mini and I’m still cold.”

“We don’t have any more blankets,” Kanda replies evenly. “And we have to save firewood. I’m fine.”

Lavi stares into the darkness for a few seconds and suddenly he has to think about the boldness in Kanda’s eyes. He didn’t saw it since they were snowed in, because his mind seemed to be occupied by something different, maybe the reason he was in the forest in the first place.

“Kanda,” he says.

“What?” He sounds annoyed, but he’s always at least a little. It doesn’t discourage Lavi.

“Come here. I don’t want you to freeze in your sleep,” he says and it’s silent for a long moment.

“I’m fine,” Kanda repeats and Lavi sighs.

“I hear your teeth chattering.” He embraces Minerva and moves towards the wall, shivering because the mattress is cold. “Come, Mini will lie between us.”

“Good night,” Kanda says and Lavi sighs once more and turns over onto his other side, enjoying Minerva’s warmth against his back. She grunts and he closes his eyes.

He’s half asleep, when there’s suddenly movement behind him. Minerva jumps to her feet and barks excitedly and he clearly hears Kanda shushing her.

“Shh, for fuck’s sake,” he whispers. “Down.” She flops back down and Lavi feels the mattress dipping under Kanda’s weight. There’s some movement and rustling next to him and then a very cold foot accidently touches his leg.

“Holy shit,” he breathes and turns around. “You’re freezing.”

“Shh,” he repeats and the foot disappears. “Silence.”

Lavi rolls his eyes and sighs for the nth time today.

It’s a restless night. Minerva wags her tail from time to time, whipping against his legs, Kanda keeps rustling and radiates coldness, and Lavi is wide awake.

He didn’t share his bed with another soul aside Minerva for nearly five years. He needs about another hour until he’s finally asleep, but not for long.

The first pale morning light crawls through the snowy window, when Minerva jumps up to slobber some water. Lavi turns around with a sigh and nearly rolls into the warm body next to him.

“Sorry,” he murmurs and moves away, but Kanda doesn’t say anything. Instead he just turns around and hides his face in the pillow. His hair lies between them, long and dark. His foot touches Lavi’s calf, a lot warmer than hours before, and Lavi moves slightly. Kanda pulls his leg back, but doesn’t move aside from that.

It’s comfortably warm under the pile of blankets and Lavi moves a little towards him, because Minerva’s heat is missing.

“Are you cold?” Kanda suddenly asks and raises his head to look at him. His hair is in disarray and frames his face. Lavi examines his dark eyes and wild hair and nods. “Turn around,” he says and Lavi does after a moment.

“And then?” he asks, but Kanda doesn’t have to answer. His back is all of a sudden flush with Lavi’s and he’s so warm that Lavi has to keep himself from moving backwards. Kanda’s hair tickles his neck and there’s no way he can fall back asleep like this. And so he just lies there and listens to soft breathing for a while, feeling all warm and a little giddy. Kanda doesn’t move, but he’s not asleep, because after sharing a small cabin for weeks Lavi knows exactly the soft rhythm of his breath. He always has been observant, more than the other kids, always noticing small details.

Kanda is as awake as he and finally Lavi turns around. He has to feel his breath in his neck, but either he doesn’t care or he’s waiting what he’s going to do. Lavi doesn’t put an arm around him, because holding each other is another boundary and he doesn’t know if he’s willing to cross it. He just lies there and breathes in the smell of Kanda’s soft hair against his cheek until he turns his head and looks at him.

Lavi’s eyes jump over his face and there it is. Something bold in his dark eyes. Lavi’s eyes drop to his mouth and then back up to his eyes. “Kanda,” he whispers and falls silent, because Kanda turns around, puts his arm around his waist and kisses him.

It’s a short kiss, tasting like sleep and cosiness. Kanda wants to draw back, maybe to look at him, but Lavi wraps an arm around his neck and pulls him close. A soft sound escapes Kanda’s lips and Lavi smiles into the kiss. It’s warm, coldness and snow forgotten. Lavi catches his bottom lip between his own and feels Kanda’s lashes fluttering over his cheek.

In the end it’s Minerva, who interrupts them. She jumps on the bed and licks over the side of Lavi’s face, tail wagging and fur soft.

“The fuck,” Kanda murmurs and Lavi starts to laugh.

 

They’re still snowed in and the power is still out. They haul Minerva with united forces out of the window and put some wood into the fireplace. It’s still not warm, cold crawling through every corner of the cabin, but less cold than in the night. They eat instant porridge and afterwards Lavi climbs back under the blankets. He examines Kanda, who looks back and raises his brows.

“You wanna lie down with me?” Lavi asks and Kanda just looks at him for a long moment, before he does. Lavi has barely time to say something and then Kanda’s already kissing him. He tastes like the green tea he just drank and his hands are warm. Lavi wraps his arms around him and closes his eyes with a sigh.

It’s soft and very slow, just lips on lips. Hands wander over backs and waists, curl into hair and cup cheeks. It gets warmer under the blankets, embracing each other and no more space between them, not for coldness, not for the thoughts, which let Kanda wander restlessly through the cabin. It stops being slow and Lavi slips a hand under Kanda’s shirt, feeling all the places he’s hiding his strength, flat muscles and soft skin. He sighs and pushes his shirt up, pulling back to look at the tattoo he saw a few days ago for the time. “Om?” he asks and traces the fine black lines.

Kanda looks at him, eyes unreadable, and nods slowly. He hooks a hand behind Lavi’s neck and wants to kiss him, but once more Lavi acts without thinking beforehand.

“Why are you here?” he asks and Kanda pauses. “In the forest,” he adds quickly and cups his cheek. “I’m happy that you here with me, but I... what are you running from?”

Kanda sits up and pulls his shirt down. Lavi’s stomach twists and he quickly sits up, too. Another boundary. “I’m sorry. Stay.” He takes his hand and wants to pull him back down, but Kanda doesn’t move. “Kanda, I’m sorry.”

Kanda shoots an unreadable glance at him and then his eyes wander to the window. “How long until we can hike to the town?”

“Okay, you don’t want to talk about it.” Lavi moves closer and wraps his arms around him, relieved that he doesn’t pull away. “I don’t ask again, okay?”

“I don’t want to leave, because I’m offended or some dumb shit like that,” Kanda says and examines him, before casting his eyes down. “I… I should call somebody. I really should.”

“Okay,” Lavi replies slowly, heart a little lighter, and tucks a strand of hair behind his ear. “And then?”

Kanda stays silent and his eyes set on something only he can see. Lavi let’s go of him to sit down on the edge of the bed next to him. He’s trying to meet his eyes, but Kanda won’t look at him and so Lavi gives up and examines his own feet.

“You know why I was in the forest,” he says after a little eternity.

“No, I don’t,” Lavi disagrees and Kanda interrupts him immediately.

“Yes, you do. It’s the same reason you only let me go outside with the dog. To make sure I’m coming back,” he replies and his voice is sharp like a knife.

It’s terribly silent and Lavi’s relieved, when Minerva appears in front of the window and barks. He jumps to his feet and together they get her back inside, dry her off and then Lavi sits cross-legged on the floor and feeds her treats, because the sound of her wagging tail brushing over the floor is easier to bear than the heavy silence.

Kanda doesn’t say much for the rest of the day and Lavi fears that he damaged something, which isn’t repairable, but in the end Kanda is the one to make move. Around noon Lavi sits in front of the fireplace and heats up canned soup. Kanda spent the last hours with sitting on the window sill and staring outside, until he jumps down and stops behind Lavi. He crouches down and wraps his arms around his waist.

“Oh.” Lavi looks at him, a weight taken off his mind. “Kanda?”

He doesn’t answer, instead he kisses his neck and Lavi forgets the soup.

In another life it would be romantic, together on a blanket in front of the fireplace. But in this it’s not. It’s running away from something, which keeps chasing Kanda even after weeks and tries to get its way inside the cabin, Lavi’s hideaway. All alone, aside from his trusty dog and suddenly a stranger, emerging out of thin air and nearly freezing alone in the snow. He knows nothing about Kanda. Only his dark eyes, the warmth of his hands and his mouth.

Lavi is probably out of practice after five years, but if Kanda notices he doesn’t show it. His warm hands crawl under Lavi’s shirt and into his pants, trace his hip and collarbones, wander over his back and chest. And Lavi takes his time, unbuttons Kanda’s shirt slowly, smooths his hands over his shoulders, undoes his belt. It’s not romantic, but still beautiful, not like Lavi imagined, but warm and passionate.

Minerva ruins the mood and suddenly stands next to them and barks, until Kanda throws her favourite toy into the bathroom and closes the door behind her. “This dog,” he breathes and Lavi laughs. It’s not romantic. It’s new and exciting and Lavi keeps laughing, against Kanda’s lips, his skin, into his hair. Kanda’s hands are soft, only a little callous. The hands of a city child, new to chopping wood. It’s warm so close to the fire and even the wooden floor doesn’t feel cold against Lavi’s skin, only a thin blanket between the two of them and the ground. Lavi keeps kissing Kanda’s tattoo, his neck, the soft skin over his hipbones.

It doesn’t feel like they only know each other for a few weeks. Maybe times passes by differently, when it’s only the two of you, all alone in the wilderness, amidst wildlife and snow, aside from a friendly dog.

Afterwards Lavi lets Minerva out of the bathroom, still smiling and cheeks warm, and feeds her a few more treats, until Kanda takes his hand and pulls him to the bed. Lavi’s in the mood for round two and pities his poor dog, who probably has to go back into the bathroom, because Kanda is obviously not eager to have company, but a look into his stern face tells Lavi that he has different on his mind. He still kisses him and Kanda kisses back, but it’s not as heartfelt as before.

“What is it?” They sit next to each other on the edge of the bed, like they did in the morning.

“Kanda Yuu,” Kanda says and Lavi raises his brows. “Twenty-three years old, drop-out, three brothers, one of them dead.” Lavi takes his hand and Kanda presses it. “Adopted, not clever enough to make it through the first year of college, single-”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Lavi interrupts him and Kanda stares at him.

“You asked what I’m running from. You know what I did all alone in the forest, not wearing appropriate clothes and not having my phone or ID on me,” he says, voice cutting.

“You…” Lavi’s eyes wander to the window and he inhales slowly. “You wanted to vanish. Just like you never existed in the first place.”

“And then you appeared out of thin air and hauled my cold ass into your cabin.” Kanda lays a hand over his eyes and sighs. “I didn’t leave a letter behind or anything. I just got into my car, drove the whole night and then I walked into the forest until I passed out.”

“But… why didn’t you take your phone with you? What if you would have changed your opinion?” Lavi asks and Kanda raises his brows.

“Lavi,” he says and they lock eyes. “That’s the reason I left it at home.”

Lavi falls silent, not knowing what to say, and so does Kanda. The only sound is Minerva’s grunting. She trudges towards them and lays her massive head on Kanda’s legs, before looking up to him and wagging her tail as soon as he starts patting her.

“And your family and friends?” Lavi asks after a while and Kanda sighs.

“They probably think I’m dead,” he says slowly and frowns. “I… I didn’t think it through. I just… I just left.”

“What happened?” Lavi asks cautiously and nudges their shoulders together. “Yuu?”

“Don’t call me that,” he replies, but his words are softened by the hand on Lavi’s leg. “I… I don’t know. It got darker and darker, slowly over the last months. My father was so… he was so happy when I got accepted. I’m the first one in my family, who went to a university. But… It just didn’t work out. A lot of stuff didn’t work out.” His voice gets unusually quiet and it goes right to Lavi’s heart. His hand dances over Kanda’s back, trying to chase sadness and darkness away. Kanda looks up and Lavi tries unsuccessfully to smile at him.

“And now?” he asks silently and takes his hand. “Are you going to get up one day and just disappear into the forest? Never to be seen again?” He presses Kanda’s hand and after a moment he shakes his head.

“No.”

“Give me your word,” Lavi says and Kanda wants to avert his eyes, but Lavi grabs his chin and forces him look into his eyes. “Yuu, promise me.”

“Promised,” Kanda answers after a long moment and closes his hand around Lavi’s wrist to free his face.

“Yeah?” He doesn’t let up and they lock eyes.

“Yes,” Kanda answers and curls his fingers into Lavi’s wrist. “I won’t do the same shit again. I’m fucking relieved that you found me in the first place. But… I also don’t want to go back home.” He sighs and rubs his neck. “I messed up.”

“Then stay,” Lavi says and Kanda looks at him in surprise. “I’m serious, Yuu. Stay.”

“And live for the rest of my life in the forest with some guy I only know for a month? Yes, that’s totally going to work out.” His voice is cutting and Lavi would’ve been hurt, wasn’t there this visible weight on his shoulders, pulling him a month ago into his car and the forest and now keeping him from going home.

“You’ll have to try it to know it,” he answers and presses his hand. “The snow is less high than yesterday. Let’s go to bed early and then leave right after sunrise.”

“And then?” Kanda watches him getting up. Lavi walks toward the fireplace and has a look at the soup.

“And then you call your family and friends and we’ll see.” He smiles at Kanda. “And now let’s eat.”

 

They spend the night in the same bed and this time Minerva doesn’t lie between them. She’s curled up on the couch and fast asleep. Lavi doesn’t grow tired of kissing Kanda’s neck and shoulders, following his collarbones with his lips. And Kanda pushes his hands under his several sweaters, sharing his warmth with Lavi and accidently tickling his sides. They keep exploring, hands and mouths, in the beginning quite innocent and later less, until they end up holding each other and trying to sleep. Kanda is behind him and has an arm around Lavi, who knows that he won’t find any sleep tonight, because tomorrow they’re going to hike down to the town and then it will be over. Long weeks spent together. Kanda always being the first one to get up. Snowflakes in long dark hair. Dark eyes glinting in the light of the winter sun.

Lavi moves backwards a little until there’s really no more space in between them and Kanda, who’s as awake as him, curls his fingers against his stomach and pulls him even closer.

 

It’s still dark when the alarm clock goes off. Kanda wants to get up, but Lavi wraps his arms around him and keeps him a little longer in bed, until they finally get up.

It’s silent and even Minerva seems to notice the tension. She tilts her head and doesn’t take the treat Lavi offers her. They eat instant porridge and then Lavi crawls under the bed to get a backpack he can lend Kanda, who puts his way too thin clothes into it and a few bottles of water and some snacks. Lavi opens the window to get some snow he melts over the fire, enough for a quick wash in front of the fireplace, because it’s too cold in the bathroom. Lavi insists on washing Kanda’s long hair and spills water all over the wooden floor, but neither of them cares, besides Minerva, who examines the puddle and drops her favourite toy into it.

The window is now nearly free of snow, which is still high enough to sink up to the knees. Lavi searches forever until he finds a second pair of snow shoes, old and used. He insists on wearing them himself and nearly has to force the newer pair onto Kanda, who keeps protesting. Sun is slowly rising and they stay a little longer next to the fire. Lavi keeps combing his fingers through Kanda’s nearly dry hair and finally they get up and dressed.

They haul Minerva together out of the window and then Lavi follows and lends Kanda a hand, even though he doesn’t need it.

He stops and inhales deeply and Lavi smiles at him. And finally they leave.

The hike is troublesome and Lavi needs to stop a few times and look around, because everything looks different since it’s hidden under so much snow. Minerva trudges forward, a lot more confident than Lavi, and they follow her. As they go along Lavi spots more and more landmarks.

They listen to the singing of the birds, spot squirrels, a fox and later a deer, and after a while Lavi holds his hand out and Kanda takes it. They take a rest and Lavi knows that Kanda is scared of what is going to expect him, when he finally calls his probably grieving family. He tries to talk with him, but Kanda is taciturn and deep in thought. He answers only a few words, but he doesn’t let go of Lavi’s hand.

When he finally starts talking it’s nearly noon and the town is only an hour away.

“What are you doing out here?” he asks and Lavi looks at him in surprise and raises his brows. “I mean, all alone with your dog in a cabin in the wilderness.”

Lavi takes his time taking off the backpack he insisted on carrying since Kanda did the whole morning and drinks a few sips of water before handing the bottle to Kanda, who does the same. Lavi puts it back inside and clears his throat.

“A lot of things didn’t work out for me, too,” he says and picks the backpack up. “I just… I always liked living in the city, but suddenly it got all too fast and loud for me. The people were too loud, too. Everything was suddenly too much.” He pets Minerva’s back and starts to walk. Kanda follows in silence. “And so I left.”

“And you didn’t go back home, even after all these years?” Kanda examines him and takes the hand Lavi holds out.

Lavi smiles at him and shakes his head. “I’m not good with people. Never been. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I don’t like people, they’re just too… everybody has their wishes and needs and I’m just not very good at fulfilling those,” he finally says and presses Kanda’s hand. “But I’m very good at disappointing people.”

Kanda examines him and Lavi sees the “Who?” in his eyes, but Kanda doesn’t ask and so Lavi doesn’t tell. They keep walking, both of them deep in thought, thinking about all the mistakes they’ve made, about everything that went wrong, about missed chances and opportunities.

When the trees finally start to thin out and they spot the first houses, hidden under snow and ice, Kanda pauses for a moment and Lavi does, too. He examines him and smiles reassuringly at him.

“Everything is going to be okay,” he says and Kanda looks at him warily and stays silent.

It’s only another walk of ten minutes until they reach the pharmacy. The pharmacist beams at them as soon as Lavi opens the door and embraces him.

“Oh, it’s you! The power was out, wasn’t it?” she asks and pats his back. “Your publisher keeps calling me.” She pets Minerva’s head.

“Oh, really?” he says and smiles at her, before he puts a hand on Kanda’s back. “Can my friend use your telephone?”

“Of course he can.” She takes Kanda by the hand and drags him to the phone, giving him not even a chance to change his mind. “Or do you want to use the one in the back? It’s more silent there.” She smiles at him and Kanda nods, darting a quick side-eyed look at Lavi. He’s scared, Lavi sees it in his eyes.

“I’ll wait here,” he offers, but Kanda shakes his head.

“You have to refill your stocks, don’t you?” He doesn’t look at him and Lavi slowly nods.

“Okay, I’m in the store on the other side of the road. Okay?” he adds and Kanda nods, before following the pharmacist.

Lavi leaves the little store together with Minerva, who licks the back of his hand. He takes his time while buying groceries, because the phone call is probably going to take some time. When he leaves the store, backpack full and heavy, Kanda’s stuff carefully placed at the top, Kanda already waits for him.

“Hey,” he greets him. “Everything okay?”

Kanda snorts joylessly and pats Minerva’s back. “They pick me up. The old lady offered me her couch for tonight and tomorrow I’ll go back home,” he says and Lavi slowly nods.

“And how do you feel?” Lavi examines him and doesn’t even know how he feels.

“That’s a good question.” Kanda crouches down to properly ruffle Minerva’s fur. Then he gets up and reaches for the backpack.

“Your stuff lies on the top,” Lavi says soundlessly and watches him taking it out. “So, it’s time to say goodbye?”

“Thank you for your hospitality and hauling my frozen ass out of the forest,” Kanda says and they awkwardly stand in front of each other for another moment, until Lavi finally bridges the distance between them and wraps his arms around him. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” He moves his hands over Kanda’s back and when he wants to draw back, Lavi catches his face and kisses him. “Take care of yourself, okay?”

Kanda nods and then he watches Lavi searching for something to write. “What are you doing?”

“The power is out at least once per week, but aside from that that’s my number. Call me, okay?” he scribbles down the number and hands it to Kanda. “Okay?” he repeats and Kanda examines the small piece of paper, before putting it in his pocket.

“Okay,” he replies. Lavi wants to kiss him a second time, but that would lead to a third time, a fourth, a fifth, and they would never say goodbye, and so he doesn’t. Instead he takes Kanda’s hand, presses it gently and smiles at him.

“You’re always welcome.”

Kanda examines him and then the corners of his mouth twitch. “I know.”

Lavi wants to say something meaningful, maybe that the last weeks felt like months, or maybe that the cabin is going to feel too big and empty, but he stays silent and so does Kanda, before he finally turns around and disappears back into the pharmacy. Lavi looks after him, until Minerva pushes her cold nose into his sleeve. She whines and he pats her head. And so they hike back home, only the two of them.

 

The cabin does feel too big and empty. Lavi needs nearly the rest of the day to dig out the firewood and the junction box. He tinkers around for a while, Minerva’s hot breath in his neck not really helping, and then the power’s back on and he can finally call his publisher, who’s not amused.

It’s weird. Four years in the forest, three of them with his dog, always enjoying the calm and peacefulness. And now, after measly four weeks with a stranger he still barely knows, only his given name and his failures, it’s so terribly silent.

Lavi sighs and goes to bed early, embracing Minerva, who comforts him with her warmth and her soft brown eyes. Kanda is gone like he hasn’t been there in the first place.

 

But he doesn’t stay gone.

It’s already spring and Lavi is his old self, enjoying solitude and silence, finally finishing his newest novel. He even leaves his cabin for a few days and travels to the big city for a reading. Minerva stays with the pharmacist and whines heartbreakingly when he leaves without her. A surprising amount of people shows up, smiling and looking at him with bright eyes. It’s nice, but he’s still happy when it’s over and he can travel home. Minerva is so happy she knocks him over when he picks her up. She jumps around him the whole hike, barking and playing like a puppy, and with every step into the forest Lavi feels a little lighter and serener.

His phone rings one day late at night and for a moment he wonders, if it’s the pharmacist, to warn him of a storm, like two summers ago. But it’s not her.

“Hello?”

It’s silent for a long time and Lavi already wants to hang up, but then he finally starts to speak.

“Hello Lavi,” Kanda says and Lavi nearly has to laugh, because a shiver erupts between his shoulder blades and crawls over his whole body. It’s ridiculous.

“Yuu,” he replies and can’t hide the warmth in his voice.

It’s once more silent and then Kanda finally speaks on.

“Does the offer still hold?” he asks and Lavi sits down on the ground, because he feels all giddy and warm.

“Yeah,” he breathes and closes his eyes for a moment. “Is everything okay?” he adds and it’s very silent for a long moment.

“It’s slowly getting okay,” Kanda replies. “I… I was some time inpatient. It’s getting okay,” he repeats. “I’m enrolled,” he suddenly adds and Lavi perks up.

“Yeah?” he asks and Kanda’s voice sounds a little lighter. “That’s amazing.”

“Distance university,” he says and inhales slowly. “There’s no way in hell I’m gonna find the way to your cabin.”

“I’ll pick you up in town,” Lavi replies quickly and beams at Minerva, who wags her tail. “When?”

“Tomorrow?” Kanda asks and Lavi starts to laugh.

 

 

It’s another winter and another wave of snow. The power goes out and Kanda would probably stay the whole night in front of the fireplace to read in his textbooks, wouldn’t Lavi grab his hand and drag him into bed.

After some back and forth he finally lies next to Lavi, who bathes in his warmth. It’s completely silent and Lavi thinks he finally started to fall asleep, when Minerva jumps on the bed and flops down on top of Kanda.

“The fuck?” he grunts groggily and Lavi laughs.

He closes his eyes with a sigh, pulls Kanda close and lays one hand on top of Minerva’s warm fur.

Soon they fall asleep, the two of them and their trusty dog.